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Ask the Builder: Moving a front door sideways

Ask the Builder: Moving a front door sideways

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Wouldn’ t you love to know what the architect was thinking when she/he put the door off-center in this opening?

Q: Tim, I need your help and advice. I bought a foreclosed house for a really great price. The entrance hall is two stories high and features a large front door with a semi-circular window above it. But for some reason, the architect off-centered the door and window in the porch alcove. My contractor says the door and window can’t be relocated, and even if could be, it would be prohibitively expensive. The facing brick in this alcove is already removed, so I don’t understand why it can’t be done. What say you? Have you ever done something like this? How long would it take to remove the door and window, create the new opening, and reinstall the door and window? --Vicky M. Orient, N.Y.

A: I was intrigued by Vicky’s question. She sent it along with a great photo using my Ask Tim page at Once I peered at her photo, I was perplexed why the contractor said the door and window couldn’t be moved. Perhaps he was having a bad day, has never done this task before, or he didn’t have the skills and courage to do it. The tall opening may have intimidated him.

The good news is that the door can be relocated. It’s a simple structural modification. Believe me, creating some openings can be very challenging and complex, but not this job.

Here’s an example of a tough job. Years ago I was building a room addition on a large five-bedroom home that had solid masonry exterior walls. The architect had called for a new seven-foot-wide opening from the existing kitchen out into the new room addition. GULP!

The engineer had called for two giant steel angle irons, and I was able to install them one at a time and support all the masonry and roof load over the opening with no failure. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous. Believe me, we were working diligently to get it done. I had planned every aspect of the task and within four hours both angle irons were in place and we toasted our success.

Vicky’s task is so much easier. On a scale of 1 to 10 for difficulty with 10 being the toughest job, I’d personally rate it a 2. The hardest part of the job, in my opinion, is to build a temporary inner support wall that would support any roof load that might be resting above the window and door. You just need to build this wall so you have room to work, and the required room to shift the door and window is actually available outside on the front porch stoop. It’s caveman simple.

Every contractor looks at a job differently. This particular job is well suited for a three-man crew. The working space is tight, and you don’t want folks bumping into one another.

The first step is to protect the interior of the house from dust and debris. Plastic dust barriers need to be installed, and drop cloths need to be put down to protect the floor. Next up is framing the temporary wall. While this is happening, one of the workers can be outside starting to remove any nails from the door and window nailing flanges. You need to leave one or two nails in place so they don’t fall out until you’re ready to remove them.

Remove the door first and get it out of the way so it’s protected. Once the door and window are removed, it’s time to get any of the old framing out of the way. Assuming the correct-sized headers were used to frame the wall, these can be salvaged for reuse, saving time and money.

With the headers out of the way, it’s time to install the new full-length king studs that run from the bottom to the top wall plates in one piece. Be sure these are perfectly straight with no twist or crown. The jack studs are up next. These support the headers. Within a few minutes, the new opening is framed and complete.

I would expect all of the above work to get done within four hours at the most. It’s important to realize that I would have come to the job with all the materials and equipment I needed so there’s no running to get anything.

It's now time to install the new flashing pan or flashing under the door. Once that’s done, you can install the window first. I wouldn’t want to have the door in place and risk damaging it while installing the window. That’s the voice of experience talking!

The door would be installed last, and then the wall would be covered with an air and water barrier according to the manufacturer’s written installation instructions. By this time seven or eight hours would have passed and it would be time for the bricklayers to get started the next morning.

There are lots of videos on YouTube showing much of what I described above. I feel it’s always a good idea for you to watch videos like this before you contact a contractor for any quotes. Get a feel for what’s possible and how long things take. Don’t forget if you create a free YouTube account, you can always post a comment to the creator of the video asking how long something took if he didn’t mention it in the video.

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